Diabetes is a disease that, while common, is still surrounded by lots of misinformation. For this Diabetes Awareness Month, we want to educate you on the different types of diabetes and debunk some common misconceptions. Here’s what you need to know.
What Is Diabetes?
Diabetes is a chronic medical condition that causes the body to become unable to properly process food into energy. Our bodies rely on the naturally-occuring chemical insulin to process glucose in our blood (blood sugar), but diabetes causes the body to either stop producing insulin or stop using it correctly. This can result in a wide variety of problems, and can be serious enough to cause major bodily dysfunction or even death if not treated properly. Thankfully, all types of diabetes are manageable, and with advances in technology, only become easier to treat. Diabetes can develop as a result of multiple factors, from ongoing risky lifestyle behaviors to family history.
Types of Diabetes
There are four main types of diabetes: Type 1, Type 2, gestational diabetes and prediabetes.
Type 1 diabetes can develop in anyone at any time, though it is primarily diagnosed in children, teens and young adults. It begins as a result of an autoimmune reaction, which is essentially a form of the body attacking itself by mistake. The immune system attacks cells in the pancreas that make insulin. This causes the body to stop making insulin, meaning that in order to survive, the person with Type 1 diabetes must take insulin daily to survive. There is currently no concrete way to prevent this autoimmune reaction from happening, as it is not well understood why this happens in the first place.
Type 2 diabetes is slightly different from Type 1 in that it often occurs over time. It has been known in the past as “adult onset” diabetes, based on misconceptions that poor lifestyle choices at a young age caused it to occur later in life. However, Type 2 is being diagnosed in young people more and more often. Type 2 diabetes results from the body becoming resistant to insulin and unable to properly use the insulin it creates. 90-95 percent of people with diabetes have Type 2. People with Type 2 diabetes are often prescribed medication that helps them properly process insulin and that manage their blood sugar levels. The main difference between Type 1 diabetes and Type 2 is that with Type 2, the body can still create insulin, it just is unable to process the hormone properly. With Type 1, the body cannot create enough insulin and must rely on a synthetic version of the hormone.
Gestational diabetes occurs during pregnancy and is most like Type 2 in its effects. This form of diabetes occurs in pregnant women who have never had diabetes before, and it can potentially harm the developing baby. Gestational diabetes usually goes away after birth, but it can lead to an increased risk of developing Type 2.
Prediabetes is the first step to developing a full diabetic condition. Those who have prediabetes commonly have consistently higher than normal blood sugar levels, to the point at which diabetes (typically Type 2) could fully develop.
Since diabetes is a condition that is often tied to lifestyle choices (at least, Type 2 is), a lot of myths float around that cause people to misunderstand how diabetes works. Here are a few of them, and some facts of diabetes to debunk them.
- Eating too much sugar or being overweight causes diabetes: Sugar doesn’t cause diabetes by itself, nor does overweightness. Both of these health factors can contribute to the risk of developing diabetes, but they combine with many other factors, including genetic predisposition, to potentially cause the development of diabetes. This also means that people with diabetes don’t necessarily have to eliminate sugar or carbohydrates from their diets—but they do need to consider how ingesting foods high in those proteins can affect their bodies.
- Only adults get diabetes: While it’s true that Type 2 diabetes often manifests itself in adulthood, many people develop it during adolescence. The same is true of Type 1, which usually shows up during childhood.
- Diabetes isn’t serious: Diabetes is a dangerous chronic condition. More people die from complications of untreated diabetes than from breast cancer and AIDS combined. Diabetes also affects the whole body, so it can result in heart disease, stroke, blindness, kidney failure, lower limb amputation and even death. Fortunately, if adequately treated and managed with a healthy lifestyle, people with diabetes can still live full lives. And thankfully, diabetes is frequently noticed before any serious damage is done.
- Diabetes requires giving yourself insulin shots: While some people’s diabetes management plans do involve shots, not all do. There are other medicines and treatments that work that don’t involve this form of insulin delivery, especially with Type 2 diabetes and gestational diabetes. The important thing for people with diabetes is to work with their physicians to determine the right treatment plan, including the right diet and exercise plan.
Early Signs of Diabetes
If caught early, diabetes is much less likely to do long-term or extensive damage to your body. So it’s important to know what signs to look for that it could be developing. Some of these signs include:
- Overwhelming thirst
- Feelings of dizziness or confusion
- Sudden fainting
- Unexpected weight loss or weight gain
- Frequent urination
- Blurred vision
- Slow-healing sores
If any of these conditions or a combination of them is occurring in your life regularly, contact your doctor for assistance.
Diabetes can be effectively managed through medicine, but its impact can also be reduced by a change in lifestyle. Because various lifestyle choices can impact developing and existing diabetes, eating healthy, getting regular exercise, tracking blood sugar levels and more can all help with keeping diabetes from making your life more difficult.